I Add to the sacrifice of S. Charles that of the great patriarch Abraham, as a lively image of the most strong and loyal love that could be imagined in any creature.
Certainly he sacrificed all the strongest natural inclinations he could have had, when, hearing the voice of God saying to him: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, and come into the land which I shall show thee, he went forth at once, and with speed put himself upon the way, not knowing whither he went. The dear love of country, the sweetness of the society of his kindred, the pleasures of his father's house, did not shake his constancy; he departs boldly and with fervour, and goes whither it shall please God to conduct him. What abnegation, Theotimus, what renunciation! One cannot perfectly love God unless one forsake affections for perishable things.
But this is nothing in comparison with what he did afterwards, when God, calling him twice, and seeing his promptitude in answering, said to him: Take thy only-begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for a holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee. For behold this great man, setting out immediately with his so loved and amiable son, goes three days' journey, comes to the foot of the mountain, leaves there his servant and ass, loads his son Isaac with the wood necessary for the holocaust, himself carrying the sword and the fire; and as he ascends, this dear child says to him: My father; and he answers: What wilt thou, son. Behold, saith he, fire and wood, but where is the victim for the holocaust? And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for the holocaust, my son. And meanwhile they arrive at the top of the appointed mountain, where Abraham now constructs an altar, lays the wood in order upon it, binds his Isaac, and places him upon the pile; he extends his right hand, lays hold of and prepares his sword, lifts his arm, and as he is ready to despatch the blow in order to immolate the child, the angel calls to him from above: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am. And the angel said to him: Lay not thy hand upon the boy. It is enough: Now I know that thou fearest God, and least not spared thy only-begotten son for my sake. Upon this Isaac is untied, Abraham takes a ram which he finds hanging by the horns in the brambles, and sacrifices it.
Theotimus, he who looketh on his neighbour's wife, to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart, and he who bindeth his son in order to immolate him has already sacrificed him in his heart. Behold then, for God's love, what a holocaust this holy man offered in his heart! Incomparable sacrifice, which one cannot fully estimate, nor yet praise to the full! My God! who is able to discern, which of the two loves was greater -- Abraham's, who to please God sacrifices so amiable a child, or this child's, who to please God is quite willing to be sacrificed, and to that end permits himself to be bound, and extended upon the wood, and as a tender little lamb, peaceably awaits death's blow from the dear hand of his good father?
For my part, I prefer the father in longanimity, yet dare I withal boldly give the prize of magnanimity to the son: for on the one side it is indeed a marvel, but not so great a one, that Abraham, already old and accomplished in the science of loving God, and fortified with the late vision and word of God, should make this last effort of loyalty and love towards a master whose sweetness and providence he had so often tasted and relished; but to see Isaac, in the spring-time of his age, as yet a mere novice and apprentice in the art of loving his God, offer himself, upon the simple word of his father, to the sword and the flame to become a holocaust of obedience to the Divine will, is a thing that passes all admiration.
Yet, on the other side, do you not see, Theotimus, that Abraham tosses and turns in his soul, more than three days, the bitter thought and resolution of this sharp sacrifice? Do you not feel compassion for his fatherly heart, when, ascending alone with his son, this child, simpler than a dove, said unto him: Father, where is the victim? and he answered him: God will provide for that, my son. Do you not think that the sweetness of this child, carrying the wood upon his shoulders, and piling it afterwards upon the altar, made his father's bowels melt with tenderness? O heart which the angels admire and God magnifies! O Saviour Jesus, when shall it then be, that having sacrificed to thee all that we have, we shall also offer up to thee all that we are? When shall we offer unto thee our free-will, the only child of our spirit? When shall we extend and tie it upon the funeral pile of thy cross, of thy thorns, of thy lance, that as a little lamb, it may be a grateful victim of thy good pleasure, to die and to burn with the flame, and by the sword, of thy holy love?
O free-will of my heart, how good a thing were it for thee to be bound and extended upon the cross of thy divine Saviour! How desirable a thing it is to die to thyself, to burn for ever a holocaust to the Lord! Theotimus, our free-will is never so free as when it is a slave to the will of God, nor ever so much a slave as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to itself, nor ever so much death, as when it lives to itself.
We have freedom to do good or evil; yet to make choice of evil, is not to use, but to abuse our freedom. Let us renounce this miserable liberty, and let us for ever subject our free-will to the rule of heavenly love: let us become slaves of love, whose serfs are more happy than kings. And if ever our soul should offer to employ her liberty against our resolutions of serving God eternally and without reserve, -- Oh! in that case, for God's sake, let us sacrifice our free-will, and make it die to itself that it may live to God! He that would for self-love keep it in this world shall lose it in the other, and he that shall lose it in this world for the love of God, shall keep it, for the same love, in the other. He that gives it liberty in this world shall find it a serf and slave in the other, and he that shall make it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other, where being in the fruition of the Divine goodness, liberty will be converted into love, and love into liberty -- a liberty of infinite sweetness: -- without effort, pain, or any repugnance we shall unchangeably, for ever, love the Creator and Saviour of our souls.